Whether you think summer is finally here, or whether it's just wishful thinking, it's time for your poems about the sun to shine
After what feels like endless months of rain and cold, we've finally started to see some sunshine here in the western half of Ireland. To try to encourage it to stay, I thought we'd try a little sympathetic magic, and so this month's Poster poems eggs are sunny side up.
For John Donne, the morning sun was a "busy old fool", sticking his nose in where it wasn't wanted when it entered the bedroom where the poet and his lover lay. Donne's poet/lover is content to share his happiness with the solar visitor through the conceit that as the couple have created their own small world in that room, the sun's daily orbit has been made shorter and easier for him.
Donne was working with an old tradition, the Provencal Alba or dawn poem, that had been popular with the troubadour poets of the high middle ages, but the English poet adds his own twist. In the traditional Alba, the lovers dread the sun's arrival as it means they must part. Donne's lovers seem to welcome the morning light, despite the light-hearted name calling. Clearly they have no intention of being separated.
The symbolic relationship between the sun and love runs deep in poetry. Frequently the beloved is portrayed as the solar centre of the lover's life, and this is not always a happy conjunction. Thomas Campion's Follow Thy Fair Sun is a fine example, with its reminders that the sun's brilliance can result in both deep shadow and a certain amount of painful scorching.
In Dylan Thomas' Fern Hill, it is the morning sun, "born over and over" each new day, that drives the narrator's childhood pleasure in life and the natural world. Each day is a new adventure that kicks off with the sunrise, and it is this sense of a daily cycle following the sun's course that underlies the whole poem. Fern Hill exemplifies that sense that most of us have that all our childhood summers were glorious affairs.
For those fortunate to live on the shores of the Mediterranean, sunshine is more commonplace than it is for us Northerners. By its ubiquity, the sun can become a marker of routine, of the habitual. For instance, the afternoon sun, in CP Cavafy's poem of that name, by virtue of shining on a certain bed in a certain room, just as it always has done, summons up an entire past life and love.
While many of us are metaphorical sun worshippers, some people seem to take the phrase a bit more literally. At first glance, this certainly seems to be the case with Australian poet Dorothy Porter and her Hymn to the Sun. This is a poem that really does what it says on the tin, and it isn't until the reference to Akhenaten right at the end that you realise that perhaps Porter wasn't actually expressing a fringe religious adherence – the poem belongs to a whole series of works set in Pharaonic Egypt that she wrote in the early 1990s.
Walt Whitman's O Sun of Real Peace also has something of the hymnal about it, but in this instance the poet is singing in praise of the peace that followed the end of the American civil war. It is testament to the sun's versatility as a symbol that it can serve both as Campion's dangerous love and Whitman's characteristically optimistic "hastening light".
Finally, Molly Fisk reminds us that the sun's beneficial light is not confined to summer. Her Winter Sun celebrates "the hint / Of warmth, the slanted light" that helps sustain us through the short days and long nights of the winter, secure that not only will the sun be reborn tomorrow, but that summer, of sorts at least, will come around again in its proper time.
And so this month's challenge is to write poems on the subject of the sun; mostly from memory for some of us, I'm afraid. Is your sense of it warm and friendly or fiery and dangerous? Are you a sun worshipper or a sun shunner? Either way, please share your thoughts in verse here.